Jayson Stark finds it fitting that he and Joe Banner, whom he had never met until they ran into each other in a Margate, N.J., restaurant a few years ago, are entering the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame together on May 23.
After all, both were ESPN regulars until they were part of a massive staff purge last month.
Since then, the outpouring of affection coupled with outrage has amazed Stark and given Banner an opportunity to take stock.
“So many people have reached out to me since this happened,” said Stark, who covered baseball and college basketball, among other things, for The Philadelphia Inquirer for 21 years, before joining ESPN in 2000. “I must’ve heard from over 100 people just in baseball — managers, players, general managers.
“[Chicago Cubs Manager] Joe Maddon mentioned me in his pre-game media session. It’s been incredible the number of people who’ve responded to me on Facebook and posted things. Obviously, they’ve watched baseball over the years and they get it.”
And those who’ve followed Banner’s career, particularly from the time then-new Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie’s buddy from Boston arrived in 1994 to help run the team, may have finally come to appreciate him, too.
That was seldom the case back then.
“I’m not the only person who’s been defined to people who don’t know him in a way that doesn’t really resemble who you are,” Banner said. “There’s a big gap between people who know me and the way I’m portrayed.
“Collectively, we [Banner and Lurie] were often described as caring more about money than winning and not caring deeply about the fans. But we were always trying to act with integrity.
“Not that we didn’t make mistakes, but we never had other than the purest motives. I don’t think most fans describing the era of me and Jeff and Andy [Reid] together would necessarily use those terms.”
Stark and Banner headline the 2017 class, but have plenty of company.
Joining them are former Duke University All-America soccer player Joshua Bienenfeld; former University of Pennsylvania and 1976 Olympic rower Ken Dreyfuss; former Penn tennis standout June Greenfield Eisner; and the late Arie Gluck, a former Israeli track star and 1952 Olympian.
And hello Neuman: That would be former Penn point guard Jeff Neuman, who led the 1966 Quakers to their first Ivy League title. He was a three-time all-Ivy standout.
“I was a great passer, and we played a very upbeat game,” said the Altoona, Pa.-born Neuman, who played for the 1965 USA Gold Medal-winning Maccabiah Games team. “When you’re the point guard and your big men rebound, you want to reward them and get them the ball.
“It’s been a long time since I played, so this is a nice honor.”
Stark agreed, especially since he’s joining the company of some of the men he admired most.
“This is one coolest things that’s ever happened to me,” said Stark, who said he had no formal Jewish training growing up, but knew as an adult that Shir Ami in Newtown was the right place for him and his family when then-Rabbi Elliot Strom delivered a High Holiday sermon on “The Boxscore of Life.” “I look over the people inducted in this Hall of Fame, and there are so many of my heroes, friends and people I admired.
“My parents were so proud of me it should’ve been illegal. This would be on a list of greatest thing that’s ever happened in our family; to have their kid be elected to a hall of fame like this, wow! It gives me chills thinking about it.”
For Banner, who spent 19 years in the Eagles front office before moving on briefly to the Cleveland Browns and Atlanta Falcons, it’s equally meaningful. He’s now teaching a sports law class at Villanova University.
“There’s not that many moments you stop and look back at your career and what you’ve achieved,” said Banner, who was a longtime member at Har Zion Temple in Penn Valley, along with his wife, Helaine. “When something like this comes up, it pushes you in that direction. Our faith has always been important to my wife and I and our kids.
“One of my first memories as a kid was going to my grandparents’ house for Shabbat dinner with my dad’s brothers and their families. It was really kind of the foundation of becoming important to me, not just what I believe in but feeling it was actually a part of who I was.”
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